Guest post from Susan Baier, a 20-year marketing strategy veteran with an MBA in Entrepreneurship. Her company Audience Audit provides strategic marketing support and audience segmentation research that helps organizations understand their customers better.
Being relevant to customers isn’t about just using their first name in an email. True relevance grows from a deep understanding of what motivates your customers, and ensuring that every contact they have with your organization shows to what degree your company values their reasons for choosing you. That deep respect for what drives your customers and prospects can’t be faked, either – you either live it or you don’t, and they can tell the difference.
The best example I’ve ever seen of this is from a company called ThinkGeek, which prides itself on carrying the most robust collection of unique, thought-provoking products with the biggest nerd appeal on the planet. They have 3 million unique visitors and 35 million page views every month.
ThinkGeek has a robust involvement in social media, with over 68,000 followers on Twitter, 50,000 fans on Facebook and over 11,000 subscribers to their channel on YouTube, which features company-posted videos demonstrating items like their proximity-meter t-shirts and fake-blood-filled, realistically gummy heart for Valentine’s Day.
They are successful because they unabashedly have the same interests as their customers, and they are incredibly consistent across all outposts. Here’s what they’re doing right:
Engage, Don’t Sell
ThinkGeek has separated their Twitter messaging into TWO feeds – one designed to sell stuff (which is hilariously called @thinkgeekspam and posts updates about products and promotions) and one which posts all sorts of geek trivia and responses to fan questions and comments, called @thinkgeek.
According to Jamie Grove, the company’s Director of Evil Schemes and Nefarious Plans (i.e. Marketing), ThinkGeek is “all about serving our community. Our social media activities live in our customer retention sphere, not customer acquisition – because the minute it’s in customer acquisition, it changes the nature of the conversation.”
Speak Your Customers’ Language(s)
ThinkGeek’s product descriptions are peppered with arcane references to geek culture, “inside jokes” that their customers not only understand, but appreciate. They have a navigation element on their site titled “OMGWTFUN”, and they recently sent an email with the subject line “ThinkGeek less than threes you.”
But the best example I’ve seen is on their Facebook page, where one fan posted an update on their wall — in BINARY CODE. ThinkGeek responded in binary, which spawned a number of additional comments and discussion, again in binary. If this isn’t speaking your customers’ language, I don’t know what is.
ThinkGeek’s blog recently featured a post about their newest employee Guillaume, who is French – and “largely ignorant of our favorite American movie and television memes.” So, ThinkGeek launched “Operation Guillaume” – a full-scale effort to “convert” their newest employee to red, white and blue geekness.
For Part 1 of “Operation Guillaume”, the company launched an online poll of their fans to identify the highest-priority “geek” movies. Guillaume will watch the top movies and post reviews to the ThinkGeek blog – thereby connecting this employee with the company’s fans in a perpetual feedback loop.
Allow Your Customers to Express Themselves
The company also devotes a lot of website real estate (and effort) to encouraging their fans to share their enthusiasm for everything geek. Every product features customer “action shots” showing the product in use. (According to Jamie, ThinkGeek was one of the first companies to incorporate customer product photos into their online presence.) They have an ongoing “Techie Haiku” contest in which fans can win $50 (one of my favorites: “TPS reports./Didn’t make a coversheet./See you here Sunday.”)
They’re currently running a video contest for owners of ThinkGeek’s Electronic Guitar Shirt (which really plays) in which customers can upload rock videos of themselves playing the shirt for a chance to win a $500 gift certificate. They’re running another contest for owners to send in pictures of their own creations on the Lego-like Brick Construction Shirt. Engagement with their products is half the fun, and the folks at ThinkGeek encourage and cherish every fan’s own experience.
Integrate Marketing and Customer Service
After Christmas I had to return an electronic item from ThinkGeek that had stopped working. William, the Customer Service representative I chatted with saw my mailing address and mentioned the Noah’s Flood-type deluge the weather channels were predicting for us in Arizona that weekend. Jokingly, he asked if I was aware that ThinkGeek also sells arks.
That got a chuckle out of me. But what really surprised me was when I posted a Tweet about the great customer service I’d received from William, and got a reply back from @thinkgeek that the accolades had been passed along, and that William had offered to fly out to assemble my ark and bring my replacement item with him.
WOW! Within moments of my customer support conversation, the ThinkGeek Twitter feed was connected to my conversation with William. According to Jamie, the company’s employees “live on instant messaging, so customer feedback is shared all the time.”
ThinkGeek’s engagement with their customers is an organic result of their shared enthusiasm for all things geek. But the opportunity is there for any companies whose employees believe in and love what they provide.
What can you do to connect with customers who share your passion?